I knew a man, George W, and he'd dance for you… the old soft shoe…
The president's clarifying address had to be heard, not to be believed. There is no new policy there, just an assembly of tired themes, slogans, and idle speculations about the future of Iraq. Other commentators better placed than I have already said this, including today the ever-entertaining Zbiggy Brzezinski.
Accordingly, it is time to focus in on such things as the standard-issue critics may have overlooked.
Stuck Inside of Baghdad With the Saigon Blues Again
W got off to a running start by contrasting the assassinated Izzadine Saleem with the ephemeral terrorist Zarqawi, who may or may not really exist. He called up dire consequences of not staying the course. So far, so good.
US forces in Iraq, said Bush, have shown "perseverance, sacrifice, and an ability to adapt." Unluckily, the "swift removal of Saddam Hussein's regime had an unintended effect" — viz., partisan warfare (my italics). With so many well-trained Neo-Cons on hand to craft Bush's speeches, there is little wonder that "unintended consequences" — carefully couched — should be noted. This does not mean that the administration has taken to reading F. A. Hayek.
Even so, US forces will persist in the cause of bringing Progress to Iraq. "Applause" here.
People "prefer lives of freedom to lives of fear," says Bush, and who could question it? "Our enemies in Iraq are good at filling hospitals, but they don't build any." Well on the facts, the US forces have been good at filling them, too, and building new ones is probably small comfort to 10,000 dead civilians. This line simply repeats the widely held American superstition that sending in a monstrous regiment of social workers makes up for any "unintended consequences" attendant on invading a country that never attacked the United States.
We shall bring into being "a free, representative government" for Iraq. "The sooner this goal is achieved, the sooner our job will be done." I suppose that means we'll be abandoning the four, six, fourteen (one loses count) US bases that are being built in Iraq. Right.
Anyhow, we shall be handing "full sovereignty" to "a government of Iraqi citizens" — five or six of them, one guesses, and thereafter "[o]ur embassy in Iraq will have the same purpose as any other American embassy" (my italics). Oops! This is probably true, and any country, anywhere, with an American embassy in it, ought to watch out.
"In addition to a president, two vice presidents, and a prime minister, 26 Iraqi ministers will oversee government departments from health to justice to defense." I was wrong, it isn't just five or six Iraqis who will bear the full sovereignty. It's thirty. If these jobs prove hard to fill, I suggest sending Messrs. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Ledeen, Perle, and 26 33rd-degree Straussians to stand in, until elections are held
If the election is close, Justice Scalia can cast the deciding vote.
Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi is doing something useful, whatever it is. Progress is afoot. Blue skies smiling at George. There'll be no compromisin' on the road to his horizon. Not at all.
Twelve ministries are already in Iraqi hands. Further, the "ministry of education… is out of the propaganda business," which means the Iraqis are ahead of us on that front.
Leaving the Yankee obsession with formal schooling to one side, we now find Bush sketching out a future in which Iraqis, as full allies, work with US forces against sundry evildoers. Indeed, the US "will maintain our troop level at the current 138,000 as long as necessary." Of course enough loco weed having been inhaled any Iraqi should feel "sovereign" with 138,000 foreign troops quartered on the land, all the more so, when Bush says that if US commanders "need more troops, I will send them."
This is the republican "I," in contrast to the royal "we." FDR used the republican "I" a lot. Thanks, George. Send a note to Congress, while you're at it.
Bush thanks the troops for their sacrifice. "Applause." No comment.
Bush now alludes to recent events in Fallujah. By executive alchemy, he turns what must seem a numbing defeat from a Neo-Con perspective — into a victory for prudence and good sense: US troops will keep order without alienating the inhabitants. Well, you have to start somewhere.
Bush mentions a number of cities, whose names we haven't needed to know since we studied the Mitanni and Kassite kingdoms of the ancient world. And now I see the deep cunning of the Neo-Con cabal. This whole bloody, expensive, not to say crazed exercise, was actually undertaken to teach Americans geography!
Anyway, no Neo-Con was harmed in the making of this film… and thank Satan for that.
Bush reports more Progress. We are building a reliable Iraqi army. I suppose this will be a great success, a sort of Somocista Guardia Nacional on a Middle Eastern scale.
After the timely arrival of sovereignty, US troops under the UN fig leaf (with any luck) will remain to help out. I suppose the US has so much spare sovereignty to hand out because Uncle Samuel long since leeched out the residual sovereignty of the fifty commonwealths that make up our glorious and involuntary union — the highest peak of human achievement. Meanwhile, in Iraq, the economy's up and "privatization" is underway, at least in the sense that US operatives understand the notion.
Just as every essay in political science used to end with "more research is necessary," Bush states that "there is still much work to do" in Iraq.
Lots and lots of "reconstruction" is under way, because, mysteriously, "Iraq's infrastructure was allowed to crumble" — but wait, it was because "money was diverted to palaces and to war and to weapons programs." Not like us, you see. Uncle Samuel has no palaces, no wars, and no weapons programs. He is a strict and frugal New England bachelor with no vices, even if some of his underlings in the field widely derided as "recycled hillbillies" have been improving themselves through on-the-job training in "Third Country" interrogation methods.
There wouldn't be quite so much "reconstruction" to do, of course, without Gulf War I, a decade and more of "sanctions," "Shock and Awe" (March 2003), etc., but mistakes are made and that's why the English language has impersonal constructions. "Shiite happens." Besides, Yankees like Bush just love to say that word, "Reconstruction," and we mustn't begrudge them life's little pleasures.
Anyway, in the new Iraq, the IMF will spend like a drunken sailor. And don't you wonder precisely which American companies will get the loot? To oversee the disbursements, "our new embassy in Iraq will have regional offices in several key cities." A cynic would think this is just more command and control.
Turning up the Bunsen burner of social engineering, Bush announces that the New Iraq "will also need a humane, well-supervised prison system." Whoa. Just like Texas. Or California. Or Illinois.
With the kinder, gentler prison in place, Abu Gulag will be destroyed "with the approval of the Iraqi government" — a happy ending which puts some of us in mind of the erasure of the ashes of Mt. Carmel. Fewer reminders that way, I guess, and maybe less evidence.
And now we shall enlist the UN. It's good enough to clean up the mess. NATO is helping out, too, if you don't count trivial states such as Germany and France.
Anyway, there will be an election. A "transitional national assembly will also draft a new constitution," to be approved by referendum in "the fall of 2005." I wonder if they'll be allowed to vote NO?
I suspect this is a one-time-only Jaffaite "social contract." Vote once in 2005 — or in 1788, for that matter — and your fate is sealed forevermore. Your goose is cooked, and more sauce for the gander.
Bush adduces September 11th, a date which will live in repetition, and notes the educational progress of the American people: "Americans have… learned new terms like orange alert and ricin and dirty bomb." Damn! What a round-about way of overcoming Americans' educational deficiencies.
I suppose if we don't know where Stockholm is or what nuclear fission is, the shortest path to teaching us those things would be to nuke Sweden. Really, old chap, it would be better for us to remain ignorant but productive. But evildoers, illwishers, and "terraces" are about, and we must press on.
"We must do our duty…. History is moving and it will tend toward hope or tend toward tragedy." Whoa, again. Is this Spengler, JFK, Fukuyama, Kojève, or Wyndham-Lewis? And notice the juxtaposition of "hope" and "tragedy" — a combination surely meant to wind up anyone who ever read Bill Clinton's history professor Carroll Quigley.
Who says these Neo-Clown speechwrights don't have a sense of humor?
Now Bush characterizes our implacable and united Enemies. This is all theatre of the absurd, because the enemies on display — if they would even be "enemies" if the US weren't mucking around on their land — are many times less monolithic than the non-monolithic communists were. But we must go on.
The enemies "have a vision that guides and explains all their varied acts of murder." Further, they "seek the total control of every person in mind and soul…. They seek bases of operation to train more killers and export more violence…. They seek weapons of mass destruction…."
I have left out a propagandistic bit about women's rights, since that has lately become a prime excuse for US intervention. Absent that, Bush has come close to describing his own foreign policy. There is a vision. He has bases in over a hundred countries. He doesn't seek weapons of mass destruction because he already has more than any other Potentate in the world.
His advisors would like a few more, however.
Now comes more ideological fakery: "We believe that freedom can advance and change lives in the Greater Middle East as it has advanced and changed lives in Asia, in Latin America, in Eastern Europe and Africa." Well, yes, W. What the Hell does that have to do with US foreign policy?
"Two visions" are now offered. One is "of tyranny and murder," the other "of liberty and life." Where two visions are on offer, and only two visions, you may be fairly sure that a swindle is under way. Rome or Parthia! Sparta or Athens! Smith or Jones!
In our times, any passable swindle will be rooted in Cold War liberalism, Straussianism, or related doctrines.
Desperado, Why Don't You Come to Your Senses?
One begins to doubt the president's Tejanidad. By this time in a comparable play, LBJ had taken himself out of the presidential race. But LBJ didn't talk to God quite so much, or vice versa.
LBJ was crude, crass, and loved power. He believed in the Cold War and embraced the quagmire he inherited from the overrated JFK. But LBJ was human enough, in the end, to quit — for the good of his party, his country, or for reasons unknown. Maybe he got tired of hearing fabricated numbers from Whiz Kids like Robert McNamara, the Rumsfeld of that era.
The utopian crusade in Iraq is on the skids. Many Neo-Cons have settled down, and they seem to be more into laid-back songs. Even Niall Ferguson, the youngish Colonel Blimp of the historical world, has resigned his commission as privy councillor to the Yanks, and is scurrying for cover. He will be sent down and reduced in rank to Leftenant Blimp.
An impressive number of American warmongers, embarrassed but unrepentant, are also putting on their life jackets.
So what is Bush all alone at the end of the evening to do? Should he keep invading Iraq because it's a family tradition? Should he save the last dance for Blair?
Should he take it easy, and not let the sound of his own wheels make him crazy? Should he check into the Hotel California or rock the Casbah?
It's hard to say, but there are miles and miles of Texas, and all the stars up in the sky. It worked for LBJ.
May 27, 2004